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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review: The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie

by Shannon Berteau of Small Farmer’s Journal

Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor, or the value of repetition in the practice of performing basic farm tasks with our horses. Working with horses on a farm is a craft and a skill and as such it is a process of lifelong learning. In fact, most of us won’t have just one mentor, but rather a series of teamsters we chance to meet who have traveled a little farther down the road than we have, and who often appear in our lives just when we have the most need for (and receptivity to) their hard-acquired wisdom. No matter how much we think we might know, we need to remain humble enough to recognize that there is always something more we can learn from our fellow teamsters – and most especially from our horses.

— Stephen Leslie in The New Horse-Powered Farm

Do you remember back to high school or college, way back maybe? Do you remember a teacher that did do some lecturing but didn’t put you to sleep? Something about the sound of their voice, or the lyrical nature of their sentence structure kept you poised and listening. Even though I have rarely heard the voice of Stephen Leslie, in reading his articles and emails over the years for Small Farmer’s Journal I have felt that he embodies this tone. Beginning his new book, The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower, I found myself delighted that I was going to get to read a whole book of this voice, instead of just a short Journal article.

This exemplary tone of his wouldn’t be that important, except for the fact that no matter how well read I am on the subject, I am not a horse owner, or a farmer (gardener with chickens?). I was nervous about gleaning the necessary information from its pages. However, his scholarly, well-educated yet not boring professorialship allowed me to delve in and explore these tools and systems with the comfort of the most well established greenhorn. From tips on getting started with horses to using the basic tools for tillage and cultivation to whole farm management, Leslie takes things one step at a time and breaks to allow for questions periodically so he knows everyone is on equal footing; true sign of a good and patient teacher.

Once into the nuts and bolts of the book the pace is surprisingly quick as he takes you through a 300+ oversized page tour crossing this vast culture of knowledge. Sections include but are not limited to: draft horse breeds, care of the workhorse, working with your horse and training the teamster, training horses, working with horses on the farm, farm fertility, plowing, seeding, infrastructure, vegetable production, cultivation systems, harvesting, hay making and economics. Whew, what a mouthful. It is a lot to cover in 300 pages. He is brief in spots but somehow thorough at the same time. I particularly enjoyed the section on caring for your work horse which I didn’t expect to be detailed yet contained useful and important information for novice horse folk as well as good advice for the sage. There is also a reference section in the back and the bountiful side bars give you the impression that each of these farmers could be called upon in a time of need with their knowledge and expertise.

He pays much respect to these individuals and I truly enjoyed their shared perspectives as well as Leslie’s political interjections. Even though they can’t even really be construed as political, more philosophical:

Everything on this planet is connected, and every action must come full circle. Small farmers everywhere are planting the seeds of hope for a more sustainable world. In the future true food security will be founded on a return to human-scale farming communities.

I am left with the impression that this book could take the place of an over-view course entitled, Horse-Powered Farming 101. As Leslie states, it is a “practical application of draft horse power for the farmer of today”. It is, as he sets out to create, a “basic tool kit of the horse-powered market garden”. If you are starting from scratch you will need to delve more deeply into many of the sections touched upon in Leslie’s book with this in mind. Also, he periodically directs readers toward the references that have previously been made available on the subject including our very own Lynn Miller, Doc Hammill, and Eric and Anne Nordell.

I think this book will serve as a useful compass, or syllabus, from which to guide many young farmers’ journeys into farming with horses. I wish them the best of luck! Thank you, Stephen Leslie, for contributing this tome to help folks in their introduction to and/or transition toward draft-powered farming.

Anita Van Grunsven, seasoned horse farmer extraordinaire says,

For a beginning farmer it has a lot of good issues to consider and I really liked the interviews with people including apprentices all the way up to experienced folk like the Nordells. This book is for kindergarten through third grade horse farming experience levels and I consider myself a third grader.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Follow-Up On Phosphorus

We like to think that the bio-extensive approach to market gardening minimizes the risk of overloading the soil with nutrients because the fallow lands make it possible to grow lots of cover crops to maintain soil structure and organic matter rather than relying on large quantities of manure and compost. However, we are now seeing the consequences of ignoring our own farm philosophy when we resorted to off-farm inputs to correct a phosphate deficiency.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 2

by:
from issue:

Budding is the operation of applying a single bud, bearing little or no wood, to the surface of the living wood of the stock. The bud is applied directly to the cambium layer of the stock. It is commonly inserted under the bark of the stock, but in flute-budding a piece of bark is entirely removed, and the bud is used to cover the wound. There is every gradation between budding and grafting proper.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

by:
from issue:

The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Peach

Peach

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from issue:

The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties, which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is.

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

Horsedrawn No-Till Garlic

We were inspired to try no-tilling vegetables into cover crops after attending the Groffs’ field day in 1996. No-tilling warm season vegetables has proved problematic at our site due to the mulch of cover crop residues keeping the soil too cool and attracting slugs. We thought that no-tilling garlic into this cover crop of oats and Canadian field peas might be the ticket as garlic seems to appreciate being mulched.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

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Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes

This is the account of how one farm put more horse power into the planting, cultivation, and harvesting of its potato crop. Ever since we began farming on our own in 1994 one of our principle aims has been the conversion of our farm operation to live horse power wherever feasible. This has meant replacing mechanized tools such as tractors and rototillers and figuring out how to reduce human labor as we expanded upon the labor capacity of our work horses.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 1

by:
from issue:

There are three general divisions or kinds of graftage, between which, however, there are no decisive lines of separation: 1. Bud-grafting, or budding, in which a single bud is inserted under the bark on the surface of the wood of the stock. 2. Cion-grafting, or grafting proper, in which a detached twig, bearing one or more buds, is inserted into or on the stock. 3. Inarching, or grafting by approach, in which the cion remains attached to the parent plant until union takes place.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT